Going from the fat to the fit physique is one of the hardest transformation a person can undergo. Once someone has become fat, their body has usually adapted to being fat which makes getting and staying lean tougher.
Yea, you bet!
But if this happens to be you, don’t gloom! The good news is that with the correct strategies in place and with a bit of willpower you can make a huge change in just a few months!
In fact, if you’re starting from this point you can build muscle while losing fat for at least the first 3-6 months, and you likely have decent muscle development from the start, which means that you’ll most likely look awesome once you’ve become lean.
Here’s the process that I followed to get lean and still follow to further improve my physique. I got this recommendation from my mentor Radu, which he mentions in this post:
How do You go From Fat to Fit?
In short, here’s what to do:
- Lose body fat until your waist reaches ~45% of your height.
- Once your waist reaches ~45% of your height, eat at maintenance calories for 2-3 weeks.
- Once the maintenance phase is over, move into a lean-bulking phase and start gaining the muscle mass needed to create great muscular proportions.
- Once you’ve bulked yourself up to 14-15% body fat (waist is ~48% of height) it’s time to cut back to the 9-11% range again (waist is ~45% of height).
- Repeat this process until you’ve built enough size to not look small when you cut down to 9-11% body fat.
- Enjoy life to the fullest in the meantime!
In this article I’ll go deeper into exactly how to set up these six steps so that you can get started moving from the fat to the fit physique right away.
Are you ready? Let’s go!
Defining The Journey From Fat to Fit
Okay so first of all let’s define the journey.
Knowing where you are now and where you want to go will help you see the changes that need to be made to your physique. By knowing this you will set your expectations straight from the beginning.
Now, I’m assuming that your goal physique is one that looks something like this:
This kind of physique has a slim waist, thick shoulders and upper back, masculine square chest, well developed arms and athletic looking legs.
The good news is that in order to reach a physique similar to the ones in the picture you don’t have to completely give up on your life and dedicate all of your time to training and dieting.
All you have to do to achieve this kind of physique is shrinking your waist, improve your muscular definition and get strong on certain exercises to develop your muscle mass. The process is truly that simple, but getting there requires at least some time and effort, which is often where it gets tough for most people.
Okay, so if you want to look like the guys in the picture above you must successfully do two things, one reach 8-10% body fat (waist is ~45% of height) and two reach the following strength standards in the gym:
The Strength Standards
- Incline Bench Press
5 reps – 1.25 x body weight
- Weighted Pull-ups
5 reps – 50% of your body weight attached
- Standing Shoulder Press
5 reps – 0.85 x body weight
- Bicep Curls
5 reps – 0.65 x body weight
45-46% of height (8-10% body fat)
So this is your goal, I don’t know what your current condition is but you’re likely not close to these standards yet. I’m sure you need to lose a good amount of body fat and get stronger than what you currently are.
But, I want you to remember that when starting out with the fat physique you actually have two major advantages going for you, and these are:
- You likely have decent muscle development from the start – Most guys starting with the fat physique achieve a fairly muscular looking physique immediately once they become lean. This is because they often times start out with more muscle mass from overfeeding.
- You can build muscle while losing body fat – For the first 3-6 months fat guys can build muscle and lose body fat rather effectively at the same time.
Keep these two points in the back of your mind as you’re going through your transformation!
So with that said, let’s take a look at exactly what you need to do.
How Your Transformation Will Take Place
As I briefly described in the intro, here’s the steps you will take:
1. Lose body fat until your waist reaches ~45% of your height. Depending on how much fat you have to lose, this cut may take anywhere from 3 to 9 months.
I explain why we start with a cutting phase first in this post: Bulk or Cut: Should You Build Muscle or Lose Fat First?
2. Once your waist reaches ~45% of your height, eat at maintenance calories for 2-3 weeks.
3. Once the maintenance phase is over, move into a lean-bulking phase and start gaining the muscle mass needed to create great muscular proportions. This lean-bulk should take you around 8-16 months depending on your training experience.
4. Once you’ve bulked yourself up to 14-15% body fat (waist is ~48% of height) it’s time to cut back to the 10% range again where your waist is around 45% of your height. Ideally, as you’re gaining size you should never go above 15% body fat again. For optimal results your cut and bulk cycles should be kept in the range of 8-15% body fat. This way you’ll have good muscle definition all the time and your face will stay relatively lean.
5. Repeat this process until you’ve built enough size to not look small when you cut down to 10% body fat.
6. Enjoy life to the utmost.
So, that’s the process, let’s look at how to set it up.
How to Lose Body Fat
Losing fat all comes down to nutrition. In order to lose body fat you must consistently take in fewer calories than what your body burns during your days. In other words, you must be in a prolonged calorie deficit. To succeed with this you should be able to enjoy yourself in the meantime so you can stick to the fat loss plan long-term.
Also, in order to support muscle growth, hormonal balance, well being and gym performance you must take in the right amount of macros (protein, carbs and fat).
How To Set Your Calorie Deficit:
Starting out with the fat physique you can use a larger calorie deficit in the beginning and still see great results. You should be able to lose around 2-3 lbs (1-1.5 kg) of body fat per week in the beginning, and 1-1.5 lbs (0.4-0.7 kg) as you get leaner (around 15% body fat and below). As long as you make strength gains in the gym, you’ll build muscle during this time, while your weight goes down fast.
To achieve this I recommend the following calorie deficit:
- 25-30% below maintenance calories in the beginning (Above 15% body fat)
- 20-25% below maintenance calories as you start to get leaner (Under 15% body fat)
Use this formula to find out your maintenance calories:
- 15 x lbs of body weight // 33 x kg of body weight
Note: The 15 x lbs of body weight will just be an estimate and it’s very unlikely that these numbers will be dead on. However, it’s a very big chance that you’ll be within shooting distance of the number you calculated.
To solve the error in calculation you can simply lower your maintenance level calories with 10% if you’re not losing body fat quickly enough, and increase by 10% if you’re losing body weight too quickly. Eventually you’ll be able to find your approximate maintenance level calorie intake.
How to Create Your Calorie Deficit
Your calorie deficit should created mainly through your diet and not through cardio. Excessive cardio interferes with resistance training performance.
The calorie deficit already has negative effects on your hormones and decreases muscle protein synthesis, so creating most of your deficit through cardio only increases the risk of muscle and performance loss.
A good rule of thumb is to create 80% of your calorie deficit through diet modifications and only 20% of it through cardio.
How To Set Your Macros:
In order to lose body fat while building muscle and feeling well during the process I recommend that you eat close to the following macronutrient ratios:
- PROTEIN: 0.8-1 gram per pound of body weight
- FAT: 20-30% of total calories
- CARBS: the remaining calories left
You don’t have to hit your fat and carb intake perfectly, these two macros can vary from day to day. However, I do recommend that you stick to 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. This is because protein is highly satiating and the macro that will help you build muscle as you get lean.
All you must do for fat loss is consistently hit the number of calories and macros you calculated. Don’t worry about things such as glycemic index, at which times you should eat, what supplements to take, that stuff is minutia. Your calories and macros will stand for 85% of your results and is what’s important for now.
If you want to see some of my absolute favourite fat loss meals, check out this article after you finish reading this one: The Best Meals For Getting Ripped
Now let’s discuss training.
How to Gain Strength and Muscle Mass
If muscle growth is your goal, you should do your best to get stronger in the gym. That’s it.
If you really want to go from fat to fit, then you must improve in the gym over time. And here’s where people screw up:
Unfortunately, this doesn’t work. The reason for this is that muscle only grows for two reasons:
- To produce more force – by increasing the size of the contractile tissue so it can lift heavier weights.
- To improve endurance – by increasing the capacity to store glycogen around the muscle fibers.
As you can see, both training that increases strength and training that increases muscular endurance will lead to growth. As long as you’re improving overtime!
The first reason for this is that you’ll do more effective reps in less total time. Training within the 4-10 rep range has been shown in research to be way more effective than both the lower and higher rep ranges.
The second reason why the 4-10 rep range is a good choice is because the most common struggle a fat individual face is a big appetite. And guess what, higher rep pump training usually leads to insatiable appetite while a more strength oriented training routine don’t. Training in the 4-10 rep range will simply lead to easier fat loss.
Lastly, the 4-10 rep range is very easy to make progressive overload and get stronger overtime in. And this is key for muscle growth! In the 4-10 rep range you can make larger leaps in weight that are easier to track, making it a great rep range for fast strength progression.
The importance of training frequency
The fastest way to make strength and muscle gains as a beginner to novice trainee (0-1 year of training) is to train a few key exercises very often, about 2-3 times a week. There are two main reasons for this:
- The majority of the strength gains a person makes in the beginning are neurological. In the beginning you’re weak not just becuase your muscles are small, but mainly because your nervous system is not trained to recruit muscle fibers properly yet. So, if you train each main exercise 2-3 x a week you will have a lot of opportunities to practice the movement. This helps you make the neurological adaptations as quickly as possible and get to the point where muscle fibers must increase in size to contribute to strength gains. This is the point where your muscles must get bigger to contribute to strength.
- The reason you can train with higher frequencies, like 2-3 times per week, is since you initially don’t lift heavy weights, you don’t create much muscle damage either. For this reason you don’t need much recovery after training. Two days of rest are usually enough to allow you to recover and be able to perform better the next time you hit the gym.
I’m sure you’ve noticed this yourself. In the first weeks of lifting you set a PR each time you hit the gym. For this reason it make sense to train an exercise more often and progress as fast as possible.
Lastly, since you will be training each muscle group two or three times a week with high intensity, your training volume (the number of exercises, sets and reps) done each session must be kept fairly low. If you don’t keep volume low, you won’t be able to recover as well.
So with that said, if you’re a complete beginner, here’s the training routine I recommend that you use for the first 3-6 months (this routine should still be used if you’ve been training for longer than 3-6 months, but mostly done “pump” work with isolation exercises):
Workout A – Upper Body
- Bench Press – 5 sets of 4-6 reps
- Weighted Chins – 5 sets of 4-6 reps
- Standing Overhead Press – 3 sets of 6-8 reps
- Cable Rows – 3 sets of 6-8 reps
- Incline Dumbbell Bench Press – 3 sets of 6-8 reps
Workout B – Lower Body
- Barbell Squats – 5 sets of 4-6 reps
- Romanian Deadlift – 3 sets of 4-6 reps
- Leg Press – 5 sets of 6-8 reps
- Seated Calf Raises – 5 sets of 12-15 reps
And here’s how to progress and get stronger over time with this routine:
- Train 3 times per week on non-consecutive days. For example:
- Monday – Workout A
- Wednesday – Workout B
- Friday – Workout A
- Monday – Workout B
- Wednesday – Workout A
- Friday – Workout B
- Rest 3 minutes between sets. Except calf raises where you rest 1-2 minutes.
- When you hit the required reps for all sets, increase the weight with 2.5 kg (5 lbs) on all sets the following workout. If you lose a few reps on the upcoming workout, no worries. Your goal for the following workout is to add back the reps in those last sets so you can increase the weight once again.
- Use a lifting app or paper to track your progress.
- After a few months (around 3-6) you will adapt and be able to handle more training. At this point you can and should update your routine to a more advanced one.
This nutrition and training plan will provide you with awesome results during your first few months of transforming your body. After that, you will need to make some adjustments to your diet and training.
What those adjustments are is outside the scope of this article. So to avoid making this article into a book, I created a guide called How to Build an Aesthetic Physique. It’s a completely free ebook guiding you from your current condition to your goal physique.
You can get it for free here. Make sure you read it, and if you have any questions leave a comment below and I’ll answer asap.
Do you want to build a lean & muscular “Hollywood” actor type physique like Stephen Amell in Arrow?
If you do, consider using a tried and true training and nutrition program.
The ShredSmart Program is the definitive step by step program for dropping body fat while building hard, dense muscle mass and best of all, enjoying life in the process.